Star Light, Star Bright: Excerpts from Chapter 4

…Billy, age five, and I, age three, were riding on the hood of Momma’s Willys station wagon. The hood ornament, really a simple strip of chrome, was between us. We hung on to the strip as Momma drove through the countryside. “There goes a jackrabbit,” Billy said.

“I wish I could see a jackrabbit,” I said.  Then I asked, “Do you see any stars tonight?” “Yes,” Billy said.

“’Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.’”

“I wish my sister Peggy could see again.”

“Y’all doing okay out there?” Momma called through the open window. “Yes,” we called back. If I tried hard, I could see the headlights of the Willys shining on the road in front of me.

I find it amazing that Momma had a blind three-year-old riding on the front of her car as she rode down a country road  I mentioned that to Billy not long ago and he said, “What about me?”

What happens to a normal child when a sibling becomes disabled?  I believe that I, the injured child, was brought to the forefront. Momma went with me to Boston and New York for surgeries in the mid-1950’s while Billy was shuffled off to relatives. I always thought that Billy didn’t suffer during those ears, but now I know he did.

When Billy could see the stars and I could not, the separateness and the closeness of our lives began.



Mother/Daughter: Excerpts from Chapter 3

…“Any chance of my potato chips?” Momma called from her bedroom.

“Oh, sorry,” I called back, “I just got bogged down in my own thoughts.”

“Isn’t this Beethoven beautiful?” Momma asked. “Sure,” I said as I made my way into her bedroom and tried to focus on the sounds of the orchestra coming from the Sirius radio. I managed to hand the napkin full of potato chips to Momma. “You’re a sweetheart,” she said.

I sprawled on the extra twin bed. “Brahms is next,” she cried. “I am so glad I can still play some Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin on the piano.”

The silent tension between my mother and me has always been this: She could have picked me up and prevented my blindness.  True, she was accustomed to servants watching children and servants ironing.  But the fact was, she didn’t have any servants and I was two and a half.  We never talked about my blinding, never.

Irresponsibility and poor judgment go hand in hand. Momma often showed poor judgment in her lifetime. Like, when she was a senior in high school and she and her friend Arvila sat across the street from their principal’s office the last week of high school, smoking cigarettes in Arvila’s parked car. The principal expelled both girls, but Momma’s daddy, a lawyer, got Momma reinstated so she could graduate. Arvila didn’t get to graduate. She was killed the next week while speeding down the road.

And what about my mother’s depression? How depressed was she the day I was blinded? Did irresponsibility, poor judgment and depression all come together?


Mother/Daughter: Excerpts from Chapter 2

…I suppose that day in Houston in 1955 began like any other day.  My brother, Billy, age four, and I, age two and a half, would have bounded out of bed early.  I understand that, on this particular day, Billy went to a playmate’s house.  As usual, Daddy would have driven off to work as a geologist at an oil well for Shell.  I’m sure I watched his brand new car as he backed down the driveway.  He always honked as he turned onto the street.

Later that morning, Momma said she was reading to me on the fluffy gray sofa in the living room.  She said I had refused to change out of my pink nightgown and insisted on wearing my red rubber rain boots even though it was a sunny day.

She read from “A Child’s Garden of Verses:” “I’m hiding, I’m hiding and no one knows where; For all they can see are my toes and my hair.”

The doorbell rang.  I jumped up and ran to the door in my red rubber rain boots and opened it.  Our white cocker spaniel, Snowy, flew to the door with me barking fiercely.  Snowy shot right on outside.

“Hooray, it’s the plumber!  He’s going to fix the kitchen sink,” Momma said. ”I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to pour hot grease down the kitchen sink.  By the way, I’m Mary Jean Paul and this is Peggy.”

“I’m Mark,” the plumber said.


Mother/Daughter: Excerpts from Chapter 1

…We stood in my mother’s living room and she said, “I’m getting in bed, Peg-a-Roo.  Fix me a ham and cheese sandwich on rye with mayonnaise and some potato chips and a cup of coffee.  Bring them to me in bed.  I’ve had a stomachache all day, but I just took my temperature, and it is ninety-eight point six.”

I was sixty years old, and had flown into Jacksonville, Florida the day before to visit my eighty-six year old mother in her brand-new cottage in a retirement center.  I was blind and had no idea where the refrigerator was, let alone the ham, the cheese, the rye bread, the mayonnaise, or the instant coffee.

I thought the kitchen was on my right, which turned out to be true, and I located a stove with a pot, a cup, and a jar of instant coffee on it.  Momma had never owned a tea kettle.  Feeling around carefully, I found a spigot and filled the pot halfway to the top with water.

“Well, I recently had a poem published in the retirement center magazine,” Momma said.  “It was called ‘On Envy.'”

“I’ll read it to you in a minute.  Out of 500 residents here, nobody even commented on it.  Don’t you like some recognition?”  Momma asked.

“Yes, Momma.”

Momma must have turned on her Sirius radio, because it sounded like a Beethoven symphony was playing forth.  I stood still for a moment.  I wondered how Momma had handled my blindness without ever really saying how difficult it was for her.



The Journey Begins

Welcome to In The Freedom of Space, a memoir on overcoming blindness in a number of ways. I begin with a scene involving my 85-year old mother and a 60-year old me talking but avoiding the topic of my blindness. I then flashback to the tragic childhood scene in which I lost my sight as a 2-year old. Join me as I travel through my story.

“When all other freedoms are lost, we have one freedom left: The freedom to choose our own attitude.” ~Viktor FranklMComin_SmallChild